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Summer Safety Series: Bites

A woman standing outside scratches a bug bite on her arm

VCU Health’s summer safety series is a series of Q&As with our experts, covering the best advice to have fun and stay safe this summer

Whether it’s insect bites or bites from a wild animal, it can be hard to know what to do in a particular situation. Dr. Emily Kershner, MD, a medical toxicology fellow with VCU Health, answers questions on bites and how to stay safe this summer. 

I’ve been bitten. When should I reach out to a doctor?

It depends on what bites you. If you are bitten by a snake, bat, or any animal that may have rabies, you should report to the emergency room for treatment. Some spider bites (black widow or brown recluse) may require medical treatment if symptoms develop. If any bite shows signs of infection (spreading redness, warm, swelling that extends past the wound), you should be evaluated by a doctor. 

What should I do after a snake bite? How do I know if a snake is venomous?

If you are bitten by a snake, you should get away from the snake, elevate the extremity, and report to an emergency room. In North America, most venomous snakes have vertical pupils. In the Richmond area, the most common venomous snake encountered is the copperhead. However, you should not try to catch or kill the snake to look at the pupils. The best thing to do is to get away from it! 

How do I care for non-dangerous insect bites?

Keep the wound clean. You can apply over-the-counter itch relief medications if needed. Seek medical management if signs of infection develop.

What are the different types of ticks and how dangerous are they?

There are many types of ticks. Some of which can cause Lyme’s disease (Ixodes or deer tick) or other infections. Ticks that have been attached to you for over a day and are engorged with blood when you remove them are more likely to cause infection. The best thing to do is to remove the tick immediately. You can see your primary care doctor or go to an urgent care for an antibiotic dose against Lyme’s Disease if the tick was engorged. Ticks that are just found crawling on you, or have been present for less than a day and are not engorged are unlikely to cause disease.  

How do I protect myself against ticks?

The best thing to do to protect yourself against ticks is to wear protective clothing when outdoors and to check yourself for ticks after being outdoors.

Do ticks that cause allergies to meat exist?

Yes. The syndrome is called Alpha-gal and it is caused by the lone star tick.

What animals commonly have rabies?

Any animal that is acting bizarrely. Wild animals most commonly carry rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and bats. For more information, visit the CDC’s webpage on rabies here.

If an animal suspected of having rabies bites me, what should I do?

You should avoid the animal and call animal control. Do not attempt to feed or pet wild animals. If you are bitten or scratched, then you should report to the emergency room for treatment. If you are in an enclosed area with a bat, you should also report to the emergency room because bats can bite or scratch without you realizing it. 


If you have any questions about bites or need expert advice, call the VPS at (800) 222-1222 or visit their website here.  

View our other summer safety articles on water safety and skincare


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